Amnesty Australia has handed down a damning report on the conditions in refugee detention centers on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island where asylum seekers are being held on behalf of Australia.
The report details widespread mental distress among asylum seekers, poor sanitation and access to clean water, and gay refugees have been sent to Papua New Guinea despite telling authorities they are gay.
Papua New Guinea jails people for sex between men for up to 14 years but Amnesty International reports that authorities have knowingly sent gay refugees to Manus Island even after asking them if there is any reason they should not be sent there.
Amnesty International reports that gay refugees in detention have also been told that center stall must report them to the police if they engage in sex with other inmates.
‘One detainee informed us that he was asked on Christmas Island, prior to transfer, whether there was any reason he should not be sent to Manus Island,’ the report says.
‘He objected on the grounds of his sexual orientation—the basis for his asylum claim—along with a pre-existing health condition.’
According to Amnesty the refugee, who has been given the alias ‘Alex,’ said, ‘the staff were sympathetic but told me I was going [to Papua New Guinea] anyway.’
Alex said he and the other gay men were informed that if they were caught committing a sexual act, the detention center staff were obliged to report that to the Papua New Guinea police.
‘He informed us that, after this announcement, many of the gay men became distressed, anxious, and could not sleep,’ the report says.
‘The detainee informed us that his biggest fear was being identified as gay and being turned in to the Papua New Guinea police. He stated that this is also true of other gay men in the detention center.’
According to the report, this has lead some asylum seekers to consider lying about their sexual orientation, while others are afraid to report homophobic harassment from staff and other asylum seekers for fear of identifying themselves as gay.
‘[Alex] told us that due to fear of identification and prosecution, some of the men have changed or are considering changing their asylum claim, from persecution on the basis of their sexuality to a political or religious persecution claim,’ the report states.
‘However, as these are false claims, they are less convincing and harder to sustain than their original, genuine claim.’
‘Some of the gay men suffer bullying and harassment from other detainees and staff. This has included physical and verbal abuse and attempted molestation. As a result of Papua New Guinea law and the detention center’s policy, the men are afraid to report or complain about this abuse to the staff.’
According to Alex some gay asylum seekers have already returned home with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration despite the risk of homophobic persecution at home.
Amnesty International says that uncertainty about their futures is wearing the asylum seekers on Manus Island down mentally without adequate mental health services available, but gay refugees in the camps have an additional burden to bear.
‘We have no support for our emotional problems,’ Alex told Amnesty International.
‘I’d like to have a boyfriend, to talk about the future with, to share my feelings with, but I’m too scared. All I want is a couple of hours to be together without attracting attention.’
Manus Island was opened as part of the Gillard Labor Government’s response to refugees arrivals by boat and was meant to ensure no refugee who arrived by boat would ever be allowed to settle in Australia.
In July of this year the Gillard Government confirmed gay refugees would not be exempt from being sent to Papua New Guinea.